DarkHorse Vendetta by Orin Drake
A completed novel, available as a paperback through Lulu and an ebook (Part One) through e-Quills.

        Chapter 3 - A Promise Made and Kept

        Julian looked up from the computer screen suddenly, recalling the time. They'd been in orbit around Ceist Vyst for quite some time now, and he hadn't heard anything. Astrid was still in her chambers, doing whatever it was she did at this time of day. But he was beginning to wonder about Jack. Or if she'd killed William. Maybe not even so much if she'd killed him... but when.
        Curiosity getting the better of him, he decided to page her. The response came back that she was not online, but the page had been registered. So he tried a direct comm link to her quarters. Strangely, there was no response. Now those two things in themselves might not be so concerning. She was probably in a bad as hell mood and just wanted everyone to leave her alone. But this was getting interesting and amusing. If there was something Julian desperately needed, it was something interesting and amusing.
        He walked out of his quarters and down the hall to Jack's. With great flare, he rang her chime over and over. No response. He waited, then rang again. Still no response. So he thought he'd try an unfair tactic. "Jack!" he spoke into the comm panel. "It's really important! Life threatening! Jack!"
        No answer. He kept chiming a little, but still there was nothing. She couldn't have ignored all that without at least telling him to screw himself. He put his ear to the door, knowing that the doors for any ship's actual living quarters were thin. Nothing at all came through.
        Hm. There must be another option. Astrid was alone, he knew that. She'd requested that specifically. Jack had eaten enough for three people at breakfast, so... other options? Certainly after all of that she couldn't be in William's temporary quarters. They were orbiting, anyway, it'd been too long. But... just in case. He was very curious, now. Curiosity was rarely his friend, but it gave him something to do until he got furniture.
        Taking a deep breath, he braved the lift. Having more or less memorized a map of the ship, he knew where he needed to go. And, considering they had no more guests staying with them, William's would be the first guest quarters in the line of them. Satisfied with his assumptions, he rang the chime.
        No response again. Why the hell don't they just install bio scanners? He used the comm panel. "Uh... Jack? Are you in there? It's very important."
        Nothing. Not a movement. So... he got devious. He had a security pass now. So, he took it from his inside jacket pocket and pressed it against the handprint panel. He felt like he ought to feel dirty about this... but he didn't.
        When the doors slid open, he didn't honestly expect anything. But he was going to get one hell of a blow. Right in front of him was her Spectre, holster and all, just laying on the floor. Nothing else. This was obviously not right. She'd never have left her weapon in the middle of a floor, let alone a despised old flame's floor. He got a bad feeling, a sneaking suspicion, and used the comm panel to page the head of transport vessels. It was only a hunch, but he'd learned to trust things like that. Or at least this would serve as the ultimate test.
        As he waited for someone to get back to him, he picked up the holster. Unprepared for the sheer weight of the weapon, he almost dropped it. A relic of the past, indeed. It was like pointing and shooting a large infant or something. The thought normally would have made him laugh to himself, but this was starting to get too eerie.
        The comm panel beeped. He remembered the command, "Yes, console."
        "Julian DeVierna? You paged me."
        "Yes." He walked back to the panel, sitting down. "I was wondering if you let anyone into a transport vehicle recently."
        "Oh, yes." The guy stated, typing on a keyboard. "Yes, about twenty minutes ago. A young man, tall, a hat. Name of William Traughty. He left with the head of security. That Jack woman."
        "She left the ship?" Julian asked, startled.
        "Yes, that's right."
        Oh, something was definitely up. He knew better. He knew a lot fucking better. She was the Lady's security (only security until he came along), she belonged on the ship. And it may be a shit bucket of a ship, but protocol was the same--if not heightened--as any other. Something was going on here.         "Was there anything unusual about either them?"
        There was a pause, then some more typing. "Well, the security head was asleep."
        Julian's jaw dropped. "Asleep?! She was 'asleep' and you still didn't find anything weird about that?"
        "Well... no."
        He shook his head. "Get a transport ready for me with the exact same coordinants Traughty asked for. Console off."

        She couldn't even keep her head up any longer. Not that she wanted to; there were several of the ugliest, most frightening creatures she'd ever seen standing around like she was the barbecue. Of course, she was. They just hadn't basted her with sauce... that she knew of.
        Her chest was getting almost too tight to breathe, the chemical strings only enticing whispered moans of pain anymore. She was too tired and too weak to do anything but wait. She'd been waiting, but death just wouldn't take her. Maybe hell wasn't ready for her yet.
        The thought made her laugh internally. Her throat was dry and her lips were splitting. And then there were the burns, of course. The situation generally sucked.
        More clicking. Oh, fucking great.
        But this time the clicking was followed by a crack-boom-whoosh. She tried to jerk her head up, but it just wouldn't allow her. That had sounded like gunfire--but she was probably just on the edge, imagining things. She'd known people to say they saw their lives flash in front of them right before they were about to die. Maybe that's what was happening in slow motion. No pictures, though; only sounds.
        There was anothercrack-boom, closer. Maybe it wasn't her imagination. But who the hell would have bothered? Certainly that asshole didn't have a change of heart. Working for Grady, he didn't have a heart at all.
        She could have sworn she heard her name through another of those gunshots. She wasn't even sure they were gunshots, but that's what they reminded her of. They could have been her bones splintering for all she knew. Some of those strands had eaten pretty deeply into her. She saw the dried blood if she bothered to keep her eyes open.
        "Jack!" She heard it that time. She couldn't raise her head and her consciousness was slipping into dull gray tones, but she knew she heard that. She just didn't know who or what had said it.
        Another clacka-boom, clack-boom-thump later, she though she heard the hard soles of military boots in the tunnel, grinding against the rock. It was coming closer, so close she could almost feel something coming upon her like death itself...
        "Jack." It was a whisper instead of a call. But she could hear it. It was close. Close enough to see her, maybe. Or to hear her. She mustered all of her strength just to make a noise, any noise. It may have worked, she really didn't know. She couldn't tell. Her mind seemed to be bleeding, shutting down, losing something precious to darkness.
        She just fell. She could feel that much. It was like falling off a cliff. She couldn't feel the impact of landing, but somewhere inside she knew she had fallen against... something solid.

        Sore. Fuck, she felt so sore everywhere. Her mind was jumbled for quite a long time as she tried to wake up; she knew she was waking but she couldn't convince herself of it. Hung between death and sleep, it was hard to choose a side.
        And then there was light. Bright, absolutely obnoxious, glaring light. She blinked and pulled her head away, her eyes in absolute agony for the fraction of a second.
        "Hey, Jack." She heard gently from her right side. She turned her head, but didn't open her eyes again yet. It was Julian's voice, she was absolutely certain.
        "Hey Jules." She whispered, her voice rough. It hurt to talk. It hurt to move. It hurt to think, but she was trying. Through her eyelids she saw the lighting dim a little, so she opened her eyes. A blurry form was looking back, but she saw the colors of the outfit. It was Julian, alright.
        "How--are you alright?" he sounded genuinely concerned. After all of that scary, messy shit that had gone on, and the head physician only giving her 50/50 odds of surviving just hours ago...
        "I don't know." She answered honestly, blinking her world into soft focus. She swallowed, finding a little saliva with which to announce her intentions. "But I am going to kill the mother fucking son of a bitch at the first second I see him again."
        Yes, apparently she was okay. Enough, anyway. "Lady Astrid is a wreck..."
        "I bet." Jack responded bitterly. She grit her teeth, trying to lift up her right arm to get some hair out of her eyes. It was like the muscles themselves had been drained of every ounce of energy. Not surprising, considering how she was held and how long she'd struggled. "How did..?" she began to ask, but didn't really know how to finish.
        "Suspicion." Julian answered simply. "I cut the web with your Spectre. I cleaned it afterward, though."
        "That son of a bitch." She sighed, feeling particularly tired.
        "Alright, uh... Jack." She heard a new voice. One of the "lower" physicians by the white ensemble. "You'll be fine. Looks like we'll keep you here through the evening and overnight in healing stasis. You might have a few scars, but I think that's all. You were lucky."
        The fuck I was. "Thanks, doc." When he walked away, she turned back to Julian. "Leave my Spectre in my quarters, if you would."
        "Sure." She looked utterly exhausted, and the doctor was making strange glances at him. "Well, I better go. I'll see you tomorrow morning."
        "Yeah." She agreed. There was a pause; not long enough to excuse Julian, but long enough to make him wonder about it. "Thanks." She said at last.
        He nodded and left without saying anything else. The doctor came back into her field of vision, several frightening medical tubes in one hand, a breathing mask in the other. "Alright. Here we go. Just take some deep breaths and sleep."

        She'd been woken about three in the morning and told it was okay for her to go back to sleep in her quarters at that time. She thanked the doctor and walked (after a long while of gettting over the nausea that stasis sleep always brought on) by herself, back "home" without anyone taking notice. Sure her joints were stiff and there were long lines of sensitive flesh here and there, but she was almost as good as new. There was no way she'd be able to sleep it off, though.
        First thing was first; she recorded everything she remembered about the "spider people" onto her computer. She was far from a writer herself, but she loved the sci-fi stuff. And besides, the world ought to know what was out there. Or at least enough to avoid Ceist Vyst. She'd publish it on the Net some day under the assumed name of some masculine, deep space traveler or something. No traces, she wanted no traces.
        She stayed at the console for several minutes, pondering whether or not to tell Ki'ehr. Obviously she would eventually. They were friends, complete and brutal honesty and all. But maybe she ought to wait until he actually got there. Maybe even after he'd gotten some rest, first. That is, if there wasn't a report published about her condition. The only person that could have done that was Julian.
        Incredibly paranoid, she logged on and searched recent archives. Nothing. Nothing about William, nothing about Ceist Vyst, nothing about her. And then the little "you've got e-mail" bell tolled. With a glance at the address, it had come from two doors down from her, at that very moment. Julian?
        She opened it, scrolling down past all of the long address and ship info. It was just a single line, reading:

Can't sleep?

        That was odd. So she thought, anyway. She responded right away:

Don't want to.

        Hmmm, should she? She assumed it worked almost next door as it did over great distances. She logged onto the text-only network and invited his insanely long address (I love cut and paste) into a private chat. How odd that they should do this instead of just meet at one of their quarters to talk.
The request was accepted. The screen had her choose a name, so by default she chose Jack. When his screen name came up, it was Marduk.
        She laughed at that. She honestly laughed at that. Whether he'd meant it or not, she got the joke; Marduk was a mythological figure that killed the great "monster" Tiamat and made the universe out of her. It seemed... fitting.

Marduk: Yes?
Jack: Just wondering why you were up at 3:30 in the morning.
Marduk: Wasn't very tired. You have good typing skills, by the way.
Jack: Ha ha. Thank you. So do you. I wanted to ask you something.
Marduk: You mean, did I file a report?
Jack: That would be the question. Marduk the Psychic amazes, astounds!
Marduk: No, I didn't. And I won't. It's your decision, since you survived.
Jack: How military.
Marduk: So I'm told. Or would be if anyone on this ship talked to me.
Jack: You mean besides me, ha.
Marduk: Yes. They avoid us both like a flesh eating plague.
Jack: I guess since they never talk to me, they won't talk to you, either.
Marduk: Well, that's ridiculous reasoning.
Jack: Yes. But it's how the ship works.
Jack: You should sleep and I should get a shower.
Marduk: If you insist.
Jack: Later, Jules.

        She logged off right afterward on purpose, feeling a little bit better just calling him such an ungodly, un-military, far from academy standard name. It was nice for the time being.
        No, she wouldn't write Ki. He'd be there in twelve hours anyway, give or take. Probably give, since they had been lagging a little in orbit. She got up and started to strip off the medical grade clothes she'd been given to get a shower, then realized she hadn't picked up her laundry yet. Annoyed, she journeyed to her closet to make sure there was absolutely nothing else to wear--to discover the laundry was already hung up for her. Attached was a note in Lady Astrid's hand writing (though it was clear from the professional creases in the clothes that the Lady hadn't hung them herself):

Get well soon, dear.

        That'd inspire any normal person to fall all over themselves. But Jack had been around Astrid long enough to know better. She wasn't a cruel girl, but... she never did anything nice for anyone unless it was inferred that a favor for her was to follow. Her "royal upbringing", Jack supposed. Lady Astrid was a "thank you" whore, frankly.
        Well, at least she had clean clothes. She threw the medical duds on the floor and stepped into the shower, wondering what the temperature would be this time. Oh, hot! Very hot, very very hot. But she didn't really mind, actually. All the better to scrub the experience away; even if the wounds burned like the very fires of hell. Fitting, she supposed.
        Washed up, she stepped out and wiped the condensation from the tiny mirror over the sink. Boy, there were quite some red lines over her chest. She looked down to find the same were littered over her arms and legs, as well. They weren't quite so bad in the extremities for some reason, but even the worst didn't look as ghastly as she thought they would. There would definitely be a bit of scarring. Not so bad, though.
        She dried and dressed, deciding to take the rest of the two or so hours she had free to read. No more sci-fi books tonight, hell no. She'd go for something fluffier.

        Six sharp in the morning. Jack walked out of her quarters and right into Astrid's for the morning crap. After all of the shit she'd been through, she absolutely did not feel like putting up with yet more shit. But there was little choice. Back to routine.
        As she woke the Lady, the girl murmured in sleep as usual. But, as she went to shake her shoulder, Astrid bolted up. "Oh! How are you?"
Jack took a quiet breath. "I'm fine. No harm done."
        That seemed to be about it. Jack didn't instantly thank Astrid for getting her laundry, so the conversation was more or less halted. Not that Jack could honestly say she minded. It was nice and quiet, getting ready for another big breakfast. Astrid sent her out to get Julian after the bath, and she did so.
        Julian, however, seemed a little... tired. She rang the chime twice before he responded. Upon opening the door, he yawned.
        "Ready for breakfast?" Jack made herself sound far more perky than she could ever actually be.
        "I'll be right there." He promised. "Just, uh... let me get some drool off of my face."
        "If you insist." She grinned at that. Not such an infallible creature, Jules. She saluted in some sort of lazy manner, then turned back to Astrid's apartment. When she stepped inside, however, she was in for the second shock of her life.
        William. It was William, almost having cornered the Lady with open, pleading hands. That son of a bitch had the nerve to come back, and talk to Astrid. (What the fuck? Am I the only security the whole ship has?!)
        As soon as he heard Jack enter, he turned to her and put his hands out before him. "Oh Jackie, honey, let me explain wha--"
        Crack. BOOM. Splatter.
        Astrid gasped. Julian, who had just walked in behind her at that very moment, stopped in his tracks and stared. William's headless, shoulderless body sloshed to the floor as Jack replaced the smoking Spectre in its holster. Mother, fucker, she thought as calmly as anything. Let Astrid think she did it to protect her; in reality, she was just paying the asshole back.
        "Wha... what was...?" Astrid asked, pale, confused, and very unsteady on her legs. Granted that the man had burst into her home and frightened the hell out of her, but... she hadn't anticipated that Jack would...
        Jack looked up from her satisfaction, bleeding into the lovely carpet of Astrid's main quarters, to see the woman herself. She had no idea what Julian had told her about the earlier "incident" on Ceist Vyst, but it didn't really matter now. "Oh, sorry." She said quite naturally. Blood had splattered across the         Lady's face, and a little had gotten on the bottom of her skirt. And right before breakfast, even. "Let's consider it a security breech, shall we? He was a danger, after all."
        Astrid's eyes only got wider. "You... do you take responsibility for this?"
        "Absolutely." Jack nodded sharply. "All me. Every last drop."
        The Lady nodded slightly, as though her neck had become completely unstable. Then she shook her head slowly, trying to clear it and bring herself out of her daze. She hadn't actually seen the bullet do it's work, but she had seen the gush of blood as the man went down. She made certain not to look at the body and merely walked over to the communication console. "I... I need someone to clean up my chambers. It's terribly messy and the carpet could be stained."
        A long pause met her request. Then a click. "Er, everything okay in there Lady Astrid?"
        "Perfectly." She tried to retain her air of aristocracy. The fact remained, however, that her voice was shaking a bit.
        "Okay then." The voice responded. Another click followed, and that seemed to be the end of that conversation.
        Astrid turned back to Jack uncertainly. "I expect you to give me a full report of this."
        "I'll start on it right now." She assured. "That is, if I may go."
        The Lady seemed to think about such a thing for a great length of time before finally nodding. She may not know Jack well, but she was certain that her supposed defender knew what she was doing. Jack did not strike her as a simple nut case. She nodded, dismissing them both with her hand.
        Jack nodded back once, then turned to see Julian, a little slack jawed. "No one fucking calls me Jackie." She said simply, walking out.
        She ventured to her quarters, leaving the door unlocked. Why bother? She sat at the computer console, pulling up a report sheet. Now, what to write...
        A chime at the door. Before she could even respond to it, Julian of all people waltzed right in. Not that she minded. Hell, she didn't have anything to hide. Just a lot of crap scattered everywhere, mostly books.
        "Yes?" she inquired innocently.
        He wasn't quite certain of what to say. He'd left Astrid with the cleaners, half because he didn't want her coming with him and half because she seemed a little too dazed to respond to him. "Just... wanted to check on you."
        "Oh, I'm fine." She assured. "But I appreciate it." That was half true, anyway. She rolled her shoulders and began to type, quickly, cleanly, and without a single spelling mistake:

Death in the Main Chamber
A Report from Jack
William fucked me over and left me for dead. I, by my word as can be attested to by my partner (Julian), had no choice but to, as I said, "Kill the mother fucking son of a bitch at the first second I see him again." My plan was carried out messily but effectively with a Spectre .45.
I would like to offer a formal apology, however, to Lady Astrid's dress, personal tailor, and whoever was stuck cleaning the carpet. I hope the blood stains came out alright.

        She sent the report immediately to Astrid's personal mailbox and turned the screen off. As she made to get up, she noticed Julian positioned right behind her. He was standing like a general, his arms folded neatly behind him, his back completely straight and feet exactly a foot's length apart. His normal stance, somehow intensified with his gaze. "You can't send that as a report." He commented, still looking directly at the blank screen.
        "Little late for that." Jack raised her eyebrow slightly, sitting on the table and facing him.
        "You do realize you just killed a man." He sounded like a scolding parent, looking up at her without moving his head.
        She nodded. Of course she understood. That's what she'd aimed for, that's what she'd gotten. It wasn't merely a personal vendetta, but that had been a part of it. "What are you really doing here?"
        His eyes relaxed in their stern gaze, but his body did not relax in the least. "I decided to see what you were going to write. And then get the entire story."
        Jack allowed herself a grin. "Ah, I see. You are less of my assistant and more of my mother."
        Julian flinched, surprising both of them. "I simply think it's important to know what was really going on, then. All I know is what happened afterward."
        She seemed to ponder the pros and cons of telling him the truth. In the end, it was probably more trouble than it was worth. But, he needed humoring sometimes, she thought. It allowed him to leave her alone for long periods of time. "He admitted that it was an act of revenge for something that had to be done, quite some time ago. He was working for a plague and it had to be extinguished in both places." Simple, straight, true, and to the point. Just how she imagined he'd like it.
        He seemed satisfied enough. He'd never seen the actual damage a Spectre could do before; he hadn't used it to shoot his way through the tunnels, having chosen his own for faster loading time and no doubt easier to handle recoil. Impressive and frightening a weapon it was, to say the least "Mind if I look around?"
        A bold question, she thought. "Feel free." She noticed him eyeing her impressive book collection. It was hard not to, seeing as though it was scattered literally everywhere, from shelves to bed to floor.
        Taking that as enough of an invitation, he relaxed and walked over to one in particular that had caught his eye. Something about the cover; it looked positively as ancient as the Spectre. He couldn't help a little gasp as he picked it up, as gently as he could. "Drawing of The Sephirot?" he asked, sounding more than a little surprised. He recognized the book from his own reading, though he'd never been able to take the book from the academy library. Even then, so many pages had been damaged over the years.. "Interested in religious philosophy?"
        She raised an eyebrow at that. Truthfully, she was elated that there was someone else of relative intelligence around her. Someone else who'd read the damn book. "Definitely. How the mind works in 'tune' with the universe... it's interesting."
        He nodded, certain he'd shattered quite a few of her defenses in one easy strike. He scanned a few of the other books she had out. Arts, sciences, even one about ancient gothic architecture. Amazing. He'd never have taken her for the... learned type. And there, in the center of all of this "heavy" material, was a leather-bound Grimm fairy tale collection. He thought his jaw would fall from his skull. It was just so... strange.
        Then his eyes crossed a familiar title. Too familiar. He'd lusted just to meet someone who read the book, let alone... "The Multiverse Collective Theory?" he breathed.
        She nodded, pretending it wasn't a big deal. She of all people knew how rare it was. Hell, it'd been illegal for a time, too.
        He continued to stare for a long time. "I thought they were all destroyed."
        "Almost." She stated calmly. "Took me three years of mercenary salary to get it. But it was worth everything."
        He just shook his head. This was utterly amazing. He supposed he could understand her attitude, now. All of the people around her were military fodder; completely uninterested, unconcerned with anything philosophical.
        "Feel free to borrow it." She invited.
        "I wouldn't dare." He smiled without looking at her, knowing that was a lie. His eyes scanned yet more of the books, and he began to actually walk through her quarters, picking some up as he went, flipping through the pages.
        "What am I? A library?" she interrupted after his meandering had lasted several minutes.
        Julian blinked and looked at her for a few seconds before a completely unplanned response spilled from his mouth. "Just taken by your taste."
        Maybe she should have felt a little offended. Or at least a tiny bit ticked. But she couldn't hold in the laughter. "What do you know about Mobius strips?" she asked after he looked just the slightest bit puzzled by her reaction.
        "I know... about them." He decided upon. Maybe not in great length, but he'd seen them. He'd played with them on occasion, when he got bored.
        "It's part of the Multiverse Theory, in a sense. A strip of two sides, becoming one with a twist. And so maybe then, it makes sense that if something has one side, it can have two with just another mere twist. If that's true, can each of those two separate sides also have two sides each, or are they forever stuck to one another, back to back? Of course, we're speaking figuratively, but..." She stopped immediately after Julian had decided to sit down at the foot of her bed, in a clear spot where the books actually didn't reside. Not that she minded him sitting down, but it was a bit of a surprise.
        "My head's spinning..." he admitted. "I'm not sure I can grasp this on so little sleep."
        "I told you to get some sleep." Jack teased a little.
        Julian just shook his head. He was still utterly astounded. He'd love to have some sort of knock-down, drag out philosophical discussion with her. Or read her books, anyway.
        The console interrupted his thought process. "Yes, console." Jack answered.
        "Travel ship is docking and specifically requested I call for you." One of the dock officers announced.
        "Thanks. Console off." Well, Ki'ehr was actually damn early for once. Not that she minded. "You'll have to mind Astrid for a little bit while I get someone settled."
        This friend she'd talked about, perhaps? He was intrigued; if she had so much of that sort of reading material, he really wondered what her friends were like. "No problem."
        "Would you like to accompany us?" she couldn't help but grin at the thought of what Ki might say or do. "It's protocol for the Lady to greet friends and family of the crew, so you may as well be along."
        Not the sweetest of invitations, but he accepted. "Sure. Then we can get breakfast without you."
        She smirked a tad at that. "Fine. I get the left-overs."

Content copyright Orin Drake 2011.
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